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Current Essay Contest


Contest Partners: Nanotronics Imaging, The Peter and Patricia Gruber Foundation, and The John Templeton Foundation
Media Partner: Scientific American


Previous Contests

Undecidability, Uncomputability, and Unpredictability Essay Contest
December 24, 2019 - April 24, 2020
Contest Partners: Fetzer Franklin Fund, and The Peter and Patricia Gruber Foundation
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What Is “Fundamental”
October 28, 2017 to January 22, 2018
Sponsored by the Fetzer Franklin Fund and The Peter & Patricia Gruber Foundation
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Wandering Towards a Goal
How can mindless mathematical laws give rise to aims and intention?
December 2, 2016 to March 3, 2017
Contest Partner: The Peter and Patricia Gruber Fund.
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Trick or Truth: The Mysterious Connection Between Physics and Mathematics
Contest Partners: Nanotronics Imaging, The Peter and Patricia Gruber Foundation, and The John Templeton Foundation
Media Partner: Scientific American

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How Should Humanity Steer the Future?
January 9, 2014 - August 31, 2014
Contest Partners: Jaan Tallinn, The Peter and Patricia Gruber Foundation, The John Templeton Foundation, and Scientific American
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It From Bit or Bit From It
March 25 - June 28, 2013
Contest Partners: The Gruber Foundation, J. Templeton Foundation, and Scientific American
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Questioning the Foundations
Which of Our Basic Physical Assumptions Are Wrong?
May 24 - August 31, 2012
Contest Partners: The Peter and Patricia Gruber Foundation, SubMeta, and Scientific American
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Is Reality Digital or Analog?
November 2010 - February 2011
Contest Partners: The Peter and Patricia Gruber Foundation and Scientific American
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What's Ultimately Possible in Physics?
May - October 2009
Contest Partners: Astrid and Bruce McWilliams
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The Nature of Time
August - December 2008
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RECENT POSTS IN THIS TOPIC

Joe Fisher: on 4/8/15 at 15:37pm UTC, wrote Dear Matthew, I think Newton was wrong about abstract gravity; Einstein...

adel sadeq: on 3/14/15 at 9:05am UTC, wrote Sorry, I don't know how I got here. This reminds me of the time I fell...

Joe Fisher: on 3/13/15 at 15:18pm UTC, wrote Dear Matty, Your essay concerned repeating some of the unrealistic...

Matty Hoban: on 3/12/15 at 23:42pm UTC, wrote Dear Joe, I'm not sure how your writings are a response to what I said in...

Matty Hoban: on 3/12/15 at 23:38pm UTC, wrote Dear adel, It's probably best if you address your concerns to George...

Joe Fisher: on 3/12/15 at 20:43pm UTC, wrote Dear Dr. Hoban, You wrote: “Many ask what good is it to have a physical...

adel sadeq: on 3/12/15 at 13:51pm UTC, wrote Dear George, My idea is a counterexample to your proposition,...

Matty Hoban: on 3/10/15 at 22:39pm UTC, wrote Dear George, Thanks for taking the time to look at my essay. First of all,...


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FQXi FORUM
September 17, 2021

CATEGORY: Trick or Truth Essay Contest (2015) [back]
TOPIC: Undecidability: The No-Man's Land between Theory and Experiment by Matthew Joseph Hoban [refresh]
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Author Matty Hoban wrote on Mar. 6, 2015 @ 16:45 GMT
Essay Abstract

Theoretical Computer Science was one of the great intellectual developments of the 20th Century and only very recently have its ideas been integrated into basic science. I argue that these ideas and tools could be vital to understanding the relationship between mathematics and physics. In particular, if we are to ask if the utility of mathematics is a trick or otherwise, then we can use methods from the theory of cryptography and computation to pitch theory and experiment up against each other. Given this perspective we can ask if an experimenter can convince us to accept the theorist's version of events. I will outline that this contest is not as simple as it initially seems. There could be a stalemate between theory and experiment and it comes in the form of undecidability: a theorist can neither confirm or deny if Nature is behaving according to our most-trusted physical theories. Surprisingly, undecidability is a very real prospect in our current theories as I will discuss, and it forces us to question the relationship between mathematics and physics.

Author Bio

Matty Hoban is currently a postdoctoral research associate in the Department of Computer Science at the University of Oxford. His research interests are at the foundational end quantum information. He enjoys computational complexity far too much for a physicist.

Download Essay PDF File

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George Gantz wrote on Mar. 10, 2015 @ 00:47 GMT
Matty -

A remarkable essay and a quite interesting finding. Does it not leave us a bit at a loss if the physics problems we are trying to study are undecidable? I tried to take this concept a but further down the road (looking at the linked issues of incompleteness, undecidability and incompatibility) and would love to know what you think of my conclusion - that there is a "Hole at the Center of Creation."

You may also find Tommaso Bolognese's essay "Two Spherical Chickens" of considerable interest.

With deepest respect - George Gantz

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Author Matty Hoban replied on Mar. 10, 2015 @ 22:39 GMT
Dear George,

Thanks for taking the time to look at my essay. First of all, I don't really think this leaves us a bit of a loss in general, as long as our physical theories give us "a story" or adequate scientific explanation. If a problem is undecidable but the theory from which it results has an adequate realist interpretation, I would still be happy with the theory and accept the limitations in making predictions. On the other hand, quantum physics poses severe problems to a satisfactory realist interpretation so one often resorts to the theory in pure operational terms. When reduced to this operational description as a means to just "shut up and calculate", it is not satisfactory if the "calculate" part is not even possible. We are forced to just "shut up".

I will have a look at your essay when I get a chance. And thanks for the recommendations.

Best,

Matty

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adel sadeq wrote on Mar. 12, 2015 @ 13:51 GMT
Dear George,

My idea is a counterexample to your proposition, you will not agree to it but I hope it will be of some help.

Essay

Thanks and good luck.

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Author Matty Hoban replied on Mar. 12, 2015 @ 23:38 GMT
Dear adel,

It's probably best if you address your concerns to George directly on his entry page.

Best,

Matty

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adel sadeq replied on Mar. 14, 2015 @ 09:05 GMT
Sorry, I don't know how I got here. This reminds me of the time I fell asleep on a train to Brighton only to end up in Portsmouth!

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Joe Fisher wrote on Mar. 12, 2015 @ 20:43 GMT
Dear Dr. Hoban,

You wrote: “Many ask what good is it to have a physical theory if it cannot give us good predictions?”

Accurate writing has enabled me to perfect a valid description of untangled unified reality: Proof exists that every real astronomer looking through a real telescope has failed to notice that each of the real galaxies he has observed is unique as to its structure...

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Author Matty Hoban replied on Mar. 12, 2015 @ 23:42 GMT
Dear Joe,

I'm not sure how your writings are a response to what I said in my essay. Thanks for the comment though.

I doubt Astronomers have not noticed that galaxies have a unique structure. I would say that the intentions of physics are to understand the fundamental causes of this uniqueness which hopefully results from universal laws that affect all galaxies. That is, we are not interested in particular properties of a system but more how these properties come to be and how they can change.

Best,

Matty

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Joe Fisher replied on Mar. 13, 2015 @ 15:18 GMT
Dear Matty,

Your essay concerned repeating some of the unrealistic abstract theories of men long dead. I wrote about reality. As you are aware, the principle question of the Foundational Questions Institute concerns how the real Universe operates. I presented you with my contention that real light is inert and there is no physical space in the hope of converting you to realism. I am sorry that you apparently did not understand what I wrote.

Respectfully,

Joe Fisher

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Joe Fisher wrote on Apr. 8, 2015 @ 15:37 GMT
Dear Matthew,

I think Newton was wrong about abstract gravity; Einstein was wrong about abstract space/time, and Hawking was wrong about the explosive capability of NOTHING.

All I ask is that you give my essay WHY THE REAL UNIVERSE IS NOT MATHEMATICAL a fair reading and that you allow me to answer any objections you may leave in my comment box about it.

Joe Fisher

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